Possible ag cuts rejected by House committee

Mar 5, 2010
by DTN

The House Agriculture Committee voted unanimously last Wednesday to tell the House Budget Committee not to cut any agriculture programs in the fiscal year 2011 budget, but House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-MN, said he will still move forward with his plan to consider cuts if Congress should go through the reconciliation process.

“We’re united,” Peterson said, of members of the committee from both parties.

“We have overwhelming support in the House not to open up the farm bill.” Peterson also said the committee was united in its opposition to reductions President Barack Obama proposed to the farm program in his fiscal year 2011 budget, including cuts in direct payments and crop insurance and limiting the size of payments to big farmers. Noting that the Bush administration had proposed many of the same cuts as Obama, Peterson said, “Bush was just as misguided as this administration.”

But Peterson said he is proceeding with plans to hold hearings on the next farm bill this year even though the 2008 farm bill does not expire until 2012. Peterson said he expects to hold hearings in Washington in March and April and six field hearings in May, June and July.

Before the hearings begin, Peterson said he is examining how much money in total goes to each commodity covered under the bill and to each of the other programs, including nutrition, conservation and food safety programs. Peterson said he will ask each interest group what they would want to save if they had to cut their programs by 10 percent in a reconciliation bill.

Peterson has said previously he expects Congress to pass a budget reconciliation bill to avoid a financial crisis. Some lobbyists have questioned whether either a Democratic- or Republican-led Congress would be willing to cut big categories such as the military, homeland security, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid or food stamps. Peterson noted that it will be impossible to bring down the deficit by cutting discretionary programs, which make up only 15 percent of the federal budget. “Maybe I’m way out,” Peterson said, adding that he would rather be prepared for cuts to programs that come under the committee’s jurisdiction.

The letter sent by the Agriculture Committee fulfills a requirement of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 which requires each committee to inform the budget committee of its legislative agenda for the following year. In the letter, signed by Peterson and ranking member Rep. Frank Lucas, R-OK, the committee stated that the recent economic crisis has shown the importance of both the nutrition programs and the farm programs that were approved in the 2008 farm bill, while the conservation programs in the bill are important to helping producers meet environmental regulations and protecting water, soil and air quality, and enhancing wildlife habitat.

The letter also said the committee has addressed waste, fraud and abuse by passing legislation to reform the derivatives market, which also comes under its jurisdiction. It also said that the farm bill included a data mining project to deal with fraud in the crop insurance programs and noted that the electronic benefit transfer system has reduced fraud in the food stamp program. — Jerry Hagstrom, DTN